For Alabama softball and Montana Fouts the most important game is the next one, not the perfect one | Hurt
The clock didn’t strike midnight unless you were watching on the East Coast. There was no eerie fog, no counter-spell.
The UCLA curse that has afflicted Alabama softball since the program’s inception didn’t just get lifted Friday night. It was lifted, crushed and tossed a thousand feet in the air, never to be seen again.
The 6-0 score, Alabama over UCLA in the Women's College World Series, was mathematical fact but didn’t speak to the feeling that if the teams had kept playing until Monday, it might have been 60-0.
The storylines were so abundant on Montana Fouts’ 21st birthday that you needed extra storage on a laptop just to write them all. She was dominant, not against an overmatched team from a smaller conference. This was a team from UCLA that dominated the sport for at least two decades, the defending national champion, even if their reign was spread over an extra year due to last season's COVID-19 pause.
It was a team that Alabama had never beaten, not ever. There’s nothing shameful about that, given UCLA’s history. At the same time, that was an obstacle that kept Alabama from joining the other elite problems in the sport at the high table. UCLA, Arizona and Oklahoma were the big names. Now Alabama has a seat among them, perhaps not at the head of the table but among the elite of the elite.
The rest of Alabama’s team carried its share of the weight, handing Fouts a 2-0 lead before she threw her first pitch and putting it away with a Kaylee Tow home run, so that the pursuit of perfection was the only drama at the end.
That’s a reminder, though. For all the great storylines, for all of Fouts’ charisma, there is still something more important ahead. The real goal, all along, has been the national championship. Yes, Alabama has put itself in prime position. So has James Madison, the Cinderella team that has been equally magical in a different way.
One can only hope that the softball gods are kind enough to give the burgeoning numbers of fans a Fouts vs. Odicci Alexander pitching matchup to savor.
Still, UCLA isn’t dead. Oklahoma isn’t either. No one is out of the WCWS yet, although there will start to be casualties on Elimination Saturday.
This is where Patrick Murphy’s experience has to take over. The most important game isn’t the perfect game. It’s the next one, as Alabama seeks to win Sunday and put itself into the national championship series.
Fouts was so dominant, her riseball so effective and Alabama’s scratch-then-slug offense so in-tune that her biggest distraction might have come from her own jewelry. Twice, her necklace was tangled in the mask she wears while pitching. First, catcher Bailey Hemphill had to come to the rescue. Then it was third baseman Maddie Morgan, who had to unravel another knot.
It turned into a moment to laugh about, but also allowed Morgan to speak the truth. She really does have to focus. It might be enough to rely on Fouts but, after perfection, after erasing a generation-long curse, and perhaps after sharing some birthday cake, what else could anyone ask of her?
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt